Interim Chief Adrian Diaz decried the “unrelenting pace of violence” this summer. We asked the two candidates for Seattle mayor on the Nov. 2 ballot about their approaches to public safety.
Q: How would you respond to concerns about slow police response times to violence and property crimes?
Bruce Harrell: Far too often, neighbors tell me they’re unsure in the event of a public safety emergency not only when police will respond — but if they will respond at all. This is completely unacceptable — every person in every community has the absolute right to feel safe.
Rising rates of crime and gun violence, and the city’s current aimless and negligent approach to public safety, should concern us all. My steadfast commitment is to restoring public safety, ensuring maximum seven-minute response times and building community trust with law enforcement.
Further defunding and department attrition is not a solution. We must restore staffing to national best practices, invest in stronger de-escalation and intervention programs, root out bias with internal culture change and build a more responsive, representative police force.
We’ll review every situation involving a gun and badge, determining when and where uniformed officers are needed. Alternative responses to situations like mental health crises and nonviolent disputes can address issues without escalation, while police focus on calls they’re best equipped to address.
Finally, investigative and detective units need resources for thorough, effective investigations — solving homicides, hate crimes, domestic abuse, gun violence, and other serious crimes, holding perpetrators accountable and reducing crime long-term.
M. Lorena González: As a civil rights lawyer for more than a decade, I worked tirelessly to get justice for victims of police violence and racially biased policing across Washington and Seattle. As mayor, I will work to address our city’s public safety challenges while ensuring that we have true public safety where our Black, brown and Indigenous community members do not have to fear police violence.
Right now we are asking the police to do too many things. Studies show that 50% of police calls do not need armed sworn officers to respond. My administration will scale up the Community Service Officer program to improve response for nonviolent crimes, including property crimes. Community service officers can be hired and trained faster than police officers and are less expensive for the city and more responsive to neighborhood safety concerns. We will also increase funding for programs like Health One Mobile units, so that appropriately trained professionals are responding to behavioral health emergencies.
Scaling up these units will allow our police force to shift their focus to more serious violent crime. And I will hold them accountable to do that job effectively and in a manner that respects the civil rights, dignity and liberty of all Seattleites.
Q: In 2012, a city report determined that 55% of Seattle’s crime prevention programs could not provide conclusive evidence of their effectiveness. What metrics should be used to monitor community alternatives to policing?
Harrell: I’m a firm believer in both community-based and culturally appropriate crime prevention programs, and making sure our investments are getting results. I strongly support looking at — and opening up publicly — the data, both quantitative and qualitative, as we track and measure program effectiveness. We must ensure we’re seeing real progress from both new and existing programs, with a focus on innovation and continuous improvement.
There is incredible, lifesaving work being done by community-led organizations throughout our city that are a model for others, especially in historically marginalized or impacted communities. Working collaboratively with experts and practitioners, we will bring programs to scale that work, improve those not meeting goals and rethink approaches that are simply not working.
We do this not by strict numerical analysis, but through holistic measures of review combining hard data with anecdotal experiences of program participants, community members and other stakeholders. We’ll analyze rates of recidivism, participation in diversion programs, and categorize the effectiveness of outcomes for participants.
Ultimately, we must be focused on reducing crime and ensuring better outcomes for the people in our community. Those are the most important guiding principles and metrics that the city needs to deliver on with transparency and accountability.
González: I cannot speak to programs that were assessed nearly a decade ago;, years before I was elected to the council. Today, the data is clear that effectively implemented violence intervention programs work. As mayor, I will propose effective new approaches like Cure Violence, a model that focuses on holistic prevention strategies and has helped reduce shootings by 63% in New York City and 48% in Chicago. The approaches in this model include hospital-based intervention strategies, youth employment programs, neighborhood economic development and trauma healing programs.
We cannot solve our city’s epidemic of gun violence with law enforcement alone. Murder rates in Seattle have increased over the past decade even as the police budget has increased. Solving this problem requires a holistic approach with a variety of violence intervention programs.
We should measure the effectiveness of each program based on how they are performing the function they are designed to do. Some examples include decreased recidivism rates, job placement rates, rates of program completion and housing stability for engaged clients.
Q: How would you reduce the number of shootings and gun crimes?
Harrell: As mayor, I’ll establish a cabinet level position to coordinate gun violence prevention, action and intervention. I’ll strengthen and expand community-based programs using street-level knowledge and relationships to identify potential trouble in advance, defuse violent situations, and divert those who would bring guns and violence to our communities.
I’ll implement technology like Automatic Gunfire Locator Systems, which I previously advocated for on city council, investing in proven technology to track gunshots and hold offenders accountable.
And, I’ll take on the NRA and fight at the state and federal levels for the ability to determine our own stronger gun laws, limiting both the number and types of weapons entering our city, how they are stored and where they can be carried.
This issue is personal to me — growing up in the Central District, I was frequently exposed to the tragedies of gun violence. That’s why I was the only candidate to enter the race with a prevention plan, why I’ve earned endorsements from leaders in gun violence prevention and impacted communities like the Rev. Harriett Walden, and why I’m proud to be the only candidate with a perfect 10/10 rating from the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.
González: As someone who has lost family members to gun violence, I believe this must be one of the next mayor’s top priorities. The epidemic of gun violence impacts the entire region, not just Seattle. That’s why I believe it is critical for the next mayor of our city to work closely with our state and federal delegation to pass laws that will prevent easy access to dangerous guns while unlocking resources to fund violence prevention programs.
We have passed several measures in the city of Seattle like safe storage laws, penalties for lost or stolen firearms and an ammunition tax. But state laws prevent us from passing stronger measures that prevent people from getting easy access to guns.
Washington state has no gun licensing requirements, strong laws prohibiting open or concealed carry, robust lost and stolen firearm reporting or bans on high capacity magazines. All of this is a recipe for guns flowing into our city with few restrictions. Seattle’s mayor plays a critical role in setting the narrative and sending a clear message to the National Rifle Association and its political allies that their policies are wrong for the people of our city.